Boxed-in, Boxed-out

Weingut Norbert Bauer Gruner Veltliner Schplink! 2021 

Niederosterreich, Austria
3 liter box (equivalent of 4 750 ml bottles)
Regular Price: $35
Sale price: $28 

Alain Jaume Grand Veneur Cotes du Rhone 2020 

Orange, FR
3 liter box (equivalent of 4 750ml bottles)
Regular Price: $50
Sale price: $40 

It’s a well known fact that the best way to keep a wine fresh after opening is to package the wine in a cardboard box, with an interior plastic bladder. Oxygen is the enemy of wine, so as one depletes the wine from the box, the bladder collapses upon itself, keeping the level of oxygen low and the wine fresher. This is a simple, elegant solution to the insoluble problem of keeping a wine fresh in a bottle, if one consumes the wine over a few days. Adding to the freshness solution, box wines are also less heavy than their glass counterparts. A 3L box of wine (the equivalent of 4 - 750ml bottle) weighs about 6 lb, while the individual bottle is usually 2.5 to 3 lb. Do the math; the box of wine is half the weight of the equivalent bottle, resulting in lower shipping costs, less fuel costs to transport, ergo a lower carbon footprint. There is also a net positive regarding recycling costs; cardboard and plastic bladders are more easily recyclable than glass bottles. 

The result is that if you care about the freshness of your wine, then you should enjoy it from a box, while you also create benefits for the environment. (Of course, not drinking wine at all provides even more environmental benefits, but that’s a topic for another day.) For these reasons, quality wine in boxes is easily available throughout Europe. So why aren’t they available in the US? 

Let’s be clear; there are many wines available in boxes in the US market, but they generally range in quality from ‘indifferent’ to ‘ok’. Why exactly is that? Well, the honest answer is that US wine importers and producers don’t really want to offer high quality wines in boxes. The name of the game in the US wine market is ‘premiumization’; whereby the same wine is dressed up in a heavier bottle and closed with a natural cork and sold at a higher price to give the consumer the illusion that they are purchasing a higher quality wine. You might think that I’m being cynical, but I can assure you that this practice is the current state of affairs. The wine industry is playing on your fears and suggesting that if you purchase a less expensive bottle, you are unsophisticated and less discerning about your wine choices. (This is also why corks are still being used rather than more efficient closures.) Box wines are not sexy, critics are not gushing about them, they are not ‘hard to find’ or ‘collectible’, they aren’t meant for aging. The US wine industry wants to perpetuate the notion that wine is special and unique and requires deep knowledge and favorable lineage (of both the wine and the consumer.) 

This is, of course, crap. Wine is a consumer beverage that has been easily and readily available throughout its 8000 year history. Wine need not be aged nor ‘properly’ paired with food nor finished with a cork to be interesting and enjoyable. 

These two European boxed wines illustrate this point perfectly. The first, an Austrian Gruner Veltliner, is fresh and bright and cheerful, not at all sweet, with muted fruit and invigorating acidity. It’s made by a family run winery that has existed since 1721 and is now in the hands of the 11th generation. The second, a classically styled Cotes-du-Rhone red, is smokey and leathery coupled with dark berry and herbal notes. Both are well-made, interesting and delicious. They are packaged in a box for your convenience rather than merely for the benefit of the wineries’ bottom line. (PW)

Insider’s tip

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